Friday, July 3, 2015

Clone Wars -- The Movie

-- A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

I got to see The Clone Wars at a special Lucasfilm premiere event. It was a pretty big deal, and they had a special display area set up at the Presidio offices with original, concept art and maquettes, which are like concept sculptures. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures, so I don't have any to show you. However, we got lunch in Star Wars lunch boxes created specially for the event. My friend didn't want his, so he gave it to me. I'd show you a picture of the lunch boxes, but they're in storage somewhere, and I'm not going to go dig around for them right now.

I'm not sure how widespread this information is, but one of the things we were let in on at the event is that the movie actually started out as individual episodes of the series. It was the first story arc. If you pay attention and are familiar enough with the series, you can actually see how the movie breaks down into its constituent episodes. On the one hand, I think launching the TV series with a movie was a great idea; however, I think they probably would have done better to have actually developed a movie rather than to string the several episodes together into a movie.

Which is not to say I didn't like it, because I enjoyed it very much, but the general response to the movie was a little underwhelming and I think part of the reason for that is that it didn't play like a movie. Because it wasn't.

The other failure of the movie was to involve the offspring of Jabba the Hutt. I think that's something people didn't want to look at. One, they don't want to see slug babies and, two, they don't want to view Jabba with any kind of sympathetic light. It's hard not to have sympathy for a parent who just wants his kid back. Personally, I found it an interesting take on Jabba, but I can see how it could cause people difficulty.

All of that said, the movie opens with a tremendous battle scene between the clones and the droids. It's, in a word, spectacular. The movement is very much like a video game, say Battlefront, and it's almost worth the whole movie just for that battle scene.

Also, this is where we're introduced to Ahsoka Tano, so the movie is essential from that standpoint. Anakin doesn't want a Padawan, but they send him one, anyway. A plot between Yoda and Obi-Wan, though they don't admit to it. He's set to get rid of her until he has to work with her during the battle, at which point he changes his mind. His comment to her is something like, "You wouldn't have made it as Obi-Wan's apprentice but, as mine, you just might work."

There are some other significant elements as well.

  • Anakin faces off against Dooku. The Anakin vs Dooku dynamic is important not just in the series but in the movie mythos as a whole. Anakin has to rise above Darth Tyranus in order to become Darth Vader, so it's always interesting to see how that relationship develops.
  • There is this incredible vertical battle between the clones and the droids during which the tanks walk up the face of a cliff. I know it's animated, but it's amazing.
  • Anakin comes by his ship, the Twilight.

Basically, the movie serves to set up all the essential elements for the ongoing television series. It's not that you can't watch the series without having seen the movie, but the movie helps, especially for the dynamic between Ahsoka and Anakin. I think, also, if the approach to the movie is that of watching several episodes of the series back-to-back that it becomes much more satisfying. It's all in the frame of reference.

It's not, by any stretch, the best story arc in the series or, even, the best story arc in season one; however, it possibly does have the best battle scenes. I'm not remembering anything more epic than the one the movie opens with, at any rate. It's a solid arc, and it ought to be included in anyone's watching of the series.

"Why can't you be a tiny, little mouse droid!"

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Inside Out (a movie review post)

I think it's safe to say that it's been a few years since Pixar put out a truly great film. Not that I haven't enjoyed the last few, but they've lacked a certain Pixar-ness. And if you're wondering what I mean by "Pixar-ness," well, I can't answer that question. You might as well ask me to define love definitively. Whatever it is, though, Inside Out has it.

My first thought was that this is the best movie they've done since Up (because I was forgetting that Toy Story 3 was actually after Up because those movies exist all together somewhere outside of the rest of the Pixar movies). That was before I found out that this one is made by the same guy that did Up, Pete Docter. This one is just as good (I know because my wife spent approximately half of the movie crying and the other half laughing).

The first most interesting thing about the movie is the representation of how the mind works. Evidently, a lot of research went into getting the science of it correct, even if just for an animated movie. The whole thing started, basically, as a science question because, when his daughter entered adolescence, Docter asked himself the question, "I wonder what's going on her brain." And, so, he tried to find out. And, then, made a movie about it.

The idea of there being core emotions and those emotions sort of being in control of who we are as people is, what I'm going to call, "good science," meaning they didn't just make up that stuff for the movie, only simplified it a little. I think the struggle between Joy and Sadness for the movie is extremely telling for our culture, especially for girls and women for whom there is a much greater social pressure to be happy. All the time. Of course, the conflict centers around Riley's loss of control of her Sadness.

Which is where I'll stop, because I don't want to have spoilers.

The animation was amazing, as is to be expected. Mostly, it's the backgrounds. The movie is full of memory marbles (my term; I don't know what they actually call them) and, if you pay attention to them in the background, they are always active. They're not just stacks of static spheres to fill up space. Seriously, the difference in animation from when I was a kid to now is... it's the difference between making a cardboard stage and putting on a finger puppet production and television.

The voice acting was, of course, excellent. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith were perfect for Joy and Sadness. Poehler brought to Joy the same kind of exuberance that she brings to Leslie Knope, which is why, I'm sure, she was chosen for the role. But it's Smith who really made the movie. Her rather, what I can only describe as, sad-sack voice was the perfect fit for Sadness. The other voicers were great, too, but it all comes down to Joy and Sadness; if those two hadn't worked, the movie wouldn't have worked.

And it does work. If you've ever seen a Pixar movie and enjoyed it, you definitely don't want to miss this one. In fact, if you take the Toy Story movies as one spot, Inside Out has a fighting chance at being one of the top five movies Pixar has done. Okay, that might be a hard call, but saying top six seems kind of weird. Anyway, it's a great movie. It will make you laugh, and it might make you cry.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Rookies" (Ep. 1.5)

-- The best confidence builder is experience.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

"Rookies" introduces us to several new recurring characters, one of which we've actually already met. Commander Cody, working with Obi-Wan, is introduced in Revenge of the Sith, but we get to meet him here from before he and Obi-Wan have formed a working relationship. There's also Captain Rex, who often appears alongside Cody in the Clone Wars series, and Echo, and Fives. Fives, named for his ID number, is one of my favorites of the side characters.

We're also introduced to the Commando droids. The Commando droids are somewhat of an upgrade from regular battle droids. Not only are they smarter, but they look cooler. Note that I only said that they're "smarter" than regular battle droids, not that they're smart. Actually, the Commando droids seem to be competent. At least competent enough to carry out complex orders and pull off infiltration missions.

As the title suggests, this episode deals with rookie troops, whom the veteran clones call "shinies," due to the shiny, new armor they have. It's an interesting look, even if done in just over 20 minutes, at the difference between raw recruits and veteran soldiers.

My favorite part of the episode is the opening during which the clone troops are listening/watching the radio/holo thing. It's a broadcast just for the troops and reminded me somewhat of Good Morning, Vietnam. As I've said before, it's these little details that seem just kind of tossed in that help flesh out the world and make it real.

"What the hell was that?"
"That was an eel. That's why we have the regulation not to go outside."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Trinity 2015: Part One -- The Lake

Life is hectic right now. Mostly, it's softball, which I haven't talked about at all this season. I meant to, but, well, other things came up which proved distracting. One thing came up which proved distracting and which lasted throughout, basically, the whole spring season. We're in the summer travel ball season, now, which is much busier and hectic than the spring rec season. So, yeah, as I write this, I just got in from softball practice with my daughter, and I will be gone all weekend at a tournament. Fortunately, I just got back from vacation, so I have a lot of new pictures!

The annual vacation is to the Trinity Alps where, ostensibly, the Trinity lake resides. However, this year, there was no lake. Thank you drought.
Those two pictures are where there should be lake.

My wife and I walked down there pretty close to dark the first night and couldn't see the water and just kept walking and walking and never found it. We went back, later, on our bikes and rode down to where the water is, but I forgot my camera, so this is all you get. [Also, there's a longer story to all of that, but I don't really have time for it, right now.]

The second night we were there, a thunderstorm actually blew through, which was pretty cool, though it didn't do anything noticeable to the water level. It was the first thunderstorm for my kids (because we really don't get that kind of thing where we live). The lady who works in the store at the campground said that sometimes it thunders so hard up there that it makes their automatic doors open. That I would have liked to have seen.

At any rate, I'm running short on time, so I'm going to leave you with rain in the mountains.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Jurassic World (a movie review post)

The first thing I want to say about Jurassic World is that it was much better than I expected it to be. Much. I liked Jurassic Park well enough but the sequels were... well, they were less than good. None of it inspired high expectations from a movie that has the appearance of being nothing more than a car on the Chris Pratt star train. Which is nothing against Chris Pratt, because I've been a fan of his since season one of Parks and Recreation.

Since we're already talking about Pratt, let's just continue to do that. Pratt was fine. Good, even. But it wasn't a part that called for Pratt, and he didn't do anything to make it his, not like with Guardians of the Galaxy. Peter Quill is inseparable from Chris Pratt, because Pratt made that part his. The most that the part of Owen Grady called for was for Pratt to be "a badass," or at least to look like one. He pulled that off, but it didn't take any particular acting skill.

Bryce Dallas Howard, on the other hand, does show considerable skill as the aloof Claire. It's not a role I've seen her play before; though, to be fair, I haven't seen her in a lot. Still, I think she did a good job as the woman trying to be in total control. Of everything.

The one I was really impressed with was Vincent D'Onofrio. I kept looking at him and wondering where I'd seen him before and just couldn't put my finger on it. I had to look up that he's the Kingpin in the current Daredevil series from Netflix. The two roles are widely divergent and, while I think he is the weak link in Daredevil, I now think it's because of some combination of the writing and directing rather than him just being a poor actor.

For Jurassic World, the kids prove to be the weakest element. Neither of them are completely convincing, though I think it's due at least in part to weak writing. Like the scene where Gray unexpectedly breaks down comes out of nowhere and is included just to make explicit something the writers had failed to be previously explicit about. Also, Zach's interest in girls. Which isn't odd except that they firmly establish that he has a girlfriend then repeatedly show him checking out other girls but that doesn't go anywhere have any impact on anything. It adds nothing to the story other than to muddle his personality.

Beyond that, the issues are only details, though there were two that bothered me more than the others. The first was the eggs hatching during the opening credits, which was completely wrong. Things that hatch from eggs hatch with their beaks and, if they don't have beaks, they generally have an egg tooth. Sometimes, they have both. The other thing was the kids getting one of the abandoned cars started, a 20 year abandoned car. I don't know much about cars, but I know enough to know that 1. car batteries don't hold a charge for that long and 2. even if they did, gasoline actually goes "bad." The idea that the boys, who had only ever helped work on a car once, could get one of those jeeps working was pretty much ludicrous.

BUT! Overall, it was a pretty decent movie and certainly worth seeing on the big screen. Despite Pratt not really being in a role that called for him, he was good, and his character was certainly the most interesting. Besides, the scene where he rides his motorcycle along with the velociraptors is almost worth the cost of the movie.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Destroy Malevolence" (Ep. 1.4)

 -- A plan is only as good as those who see it through.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This episode hearkens back to A New Hope and the Death Star rescue. See, the Malevolence is a huge ship. Massive. It's three times bigger than the standard Imperial Star Destroyer (though still dwarfed by the Super Star Destroyer). Grievous, through the machinations of Darth Sidious, is able to take Padme (almost) hostage while trying to escape from Republic forces. Anakin, of course, goes to rescue her. There are also overtones of the droid factory from Attack of the Clones.

This episode also has what I think is the first physical confrontation between Obi-Wan and Grievous. Without looking up and cataloging all of their meetings, this seems to me to be an ongoing theme in Clone Wars which, of course, culminates in their final duel in Revenge of the Sith.

Probably, the most interesting part of the episode has to do with transportation inside these huge ships. Imperial Star Destroyers are pretty close to a mile long. Haven't you ever wondered how people get around inside of them without it taking forever? Especially on something like a Super Star Destroyer, which is close to four miles long. Imagine: You have a meeting with Vader in half an hour, but you're on the wrong end of the ship. How do you get there?

Of course, the Space Balls answer was interior teleporters. But Star Wars doesn't actually use teleportation, so maybe being force choked for being late is your only option.

Or is it? The answer "Destroy Malevolence" provides is a kind of high speed tram system. Considering that the Clone Wars series is canon, I have to assume that this is the official answer as to how people (or droids) get around on these huge ships. We don't get to see much beyond the bridge area of the Star Destroyers in the movies, but I would love to see how these would look. Not that I expect that we'll get any better look at the interiors of Star Destroyers in episode VII.

At any rate, it's a fun episode. It's fun to see Anakin on the rescuing side of the whole rescue-the-princess thing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Alone in the Dark (or How Do You Turn on the Lights?)

My family just got back from vacation. Or most of us did. My oldest son actually elected not to go this year. That's okay. He's 19, and he had other things he wanted to do. Like staying connected to the Internet because his girlfriend is in Florida, right now, so going off for a week during which he would have no contact with her at all was rather more than he could deal with.

Him staying home was actually convenient for us, too, because he was able to take care of the cat and water the garden, which is now sporting a baby pumpkin.

The night we got back, I asked him, "So how was it?" You know, how was his first stay at home alone. Not only was this his first extended stay at home; this was his first just overnight stay at home alone. Yeah, we don't get out much.

I used to get left alone like that a lot, I suppose. Well, not for anything extended, because my parents didn't ever go off, either, but they would sometimes go down to my grandparents' overnight, and I would stay home. Once I was in high school, I was always busy, so, unless my mom let me know at least a week in advance, I already had something I was doing on Friday afternoon when she would say, "Hey, we're going down to the farm; do you want to come?" That was actually rather frustrating, because I liked my grandparents and the farm.

They went away for an extended trip when I was 17; I don't remember why. It was during the school year, though, so I couldn't go. My mom was worried that I would be scared and made arrangements for me to stay with someone if I got too scared to stay alone at home. Because, yeah, it would have made my mom scared, so she couldn't imagine any way that I could make it for the four or five days they would be gone without hiding in a corner from fear of the boogeyman. Or something. When they got back, she couldn't believe that I had not called my emergency backup number and gone to stay there.

The closest my son has come to being left alone, though, is that sometimes when he gets up in the morning everyone else is already gone. Usually, he doesn't even bother to eat in those situations because, you know, self-feeding and all of that. Honestly, despite buying him some easy to prepare foods (i.e. microwavable), we were a little worried we'd get home to find out that he hadn't eaten for a week. Surprisingly, all of the food was gone.

But, anyway, I asked him, "How was it?"

He said it was fine. He said it was fine except that it was a little dark.


He said the first couple of nights he kept thinking, "It's so dark in here," and he couldn't figure out why. Granted, it's pretty bright outside until, like, 9:00, so it took him a while to notice that it was dark, and that's around the time he generally goes off to his bed with his laptop, anyway, so it wasn't exactly inconveniencing him. But he didn't know why it was dark, not until the third night when he realized...

He hadn't turned on any lights!

He said it was because he's never had to turn on the lights. Meaning, they are always already on, and he's not the guy who turns the lights on, so it took a while for him to realize that they were off.

We had to laugh.

It is, however, a good illustration of how we might not think about things that we don't generally deal with, even common things. Things like turning on the lights. Or using a microwave oven. Or, like me today, trying to download songs onto my daughter's iPod, which I had never done before and couldn't figure out at first. Seriously, I thought those things were supposed to be intuitive or something. I think I should just be able to set the iPod on top of the CD and have the iPod do it.

So that first night that my son finally figured out that he needed to turn the lights on? Well, he went to bed and closed the door to his bedroom, because the boys do that to keep the cat out. The cat likes Lego. To eat. Their room is like a big buffet, so they have to keep the door closed all the time. Anyway, my son went to bed and, while he was lying there, he realized there was light coming in under the door, and he couldn't figure out why there was light because no one else was home, and he started wondering who could have turned on the lights...

Do you see where I'm going with this? He also never turns off the lights, so he hadn't done that, and it took him a moment to realize that he was the one who left the lights on. heh

Really, he's a smart kid. Mostly A's and all of that.

But we still laughed. Again.